Rescue Inhalers for Asthma: Can You Use Them After Their Expiration Date?
Is it safe to use an expired rescue inhaler? This is an interesting question I heard recently. I have only mild, intermittent asthma, so don't use my rescue inhaler that often. And actually, that's a good sign. It means that my asthma is well-controlled. You see, if you need to use your rescue inhaler more than twice a week, it's a sign that your asthma control is slipping. But I digress.
Because I use my inhaler sporadically, mostly in connection with intense periods of exercise, it may take me a year or two to go through one inhaler. So, I have sometimes used it past the expiration date. Because who wants to throw away an expensive expired rescue inhaler, right?
So, I went in search of information about whether it is wise to use an inhaler after the expiration date.
Medication expiration date guidelines
As a nurse, I was always taught that medications should never be used after their expiration dates. Every medication has a date, after which it should no longer be used. This is because all medications do break down over time and stop being as effective as they once were. Since 1979, laws in the U.S. require that drug companies label all medicines with an expiration date. This is because they can lose potency and might be unsafe to use after a certain length of time. So, expired medicines should always be disposed of after the specified date.1
There have been FDA studies done on whether medications can be used safely after the date they expire. By the way, did you know that exact expiration dates for specific medicines are determined through testing? Apparently, researchers expose medicines to heat, light, and humidity. Then, they look at to how these factors affect the medicine over time. They also measure how the human body interacts with these medicines after this type of testing.2
What about expired inhalers?
In general, this is what several studies have found on expired inhalers:3,4
- Drug effectiveness can decrease over time
- But, 90 percent of the drugs tested kept their potency for up to 15 years after the expiration date
- 12 of 14 super old drugs (28 to 40 years out of date) still retained 90 percent of their potency.
- Most medicines stored as recommended retain 70 to 80 percent potency, even after being opened, for years after expiration
So, it seems that the concerns about expiration may be somewhat inflated.
Keep in mind, though, that the following medications are excluded from the above findings and should never be used after expiring:5
- Liquid antibiotics
Expired asthma rescue inhalers
So we've talked about the general guidelines on medication expiration dates.
But how does this apply to asthma inhalers?
Asthma rescue inhalers contain a medication called albuterol sulfate. They can be sold under a number of brand names, including Proventil and Ventolin. You can find the expiration date on both the external packaging (the carton) and on the canister itself. To promote the lasting effectiveness of your inhaler, be sure to store it correctly:6
- Away from direct sunlight
- In a cool, dry place
- In a box or padded bag
Also, wash the mouthpiece frequently, as well as the canister spout to avoid clogging of the device. Be sure, also, to always replace the cap after use.6
In general, asthma rescue inhalers are probably safe to keep using for at least 12 months after the expiration date... whew! However, keep in mind that the potency might gradually decrease. This could mean that the inhaler will not be as effective in relieving asthma attack symptoms after the expiration date. So, it's wise to not rely too heavily on it.7
It seems likely that it is safe to continue using your expired rescue inhaler for about a year past the expiration date, if necessary. But this will only be true if you have taken care to store and clean your inhaler properly during its lifespan. And it is wise to note how well it actually works to relieve your symptoms after expiration. If you note any loss of effectiveness, don't hesitate to replace it!
Note: Please always check with your doctor about your inhalers and their expiration date and usage related to it.
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